May 27, 2017

This week in TV Guide: May 30, 1964

The question is this: can Ernest Borgnine, the Academy Award-winning actor adjust to the world of television sitcoms? He says he can; "The reason I got into TV was that people didn't recognize me," he tells the unnamed author of this week's piece on Borgnine's hit comedy McHale's Navy. After the show's first season, he says, "I was away up in Bend, Oregon, and stuck my head into a lodge, [and] the people all hollered 'McHale!'" In the same breath, though, he adds, "I'd love to do some serious acting again."

I'll bet he would. Few who see him as the wily PT boat captain Quinton McHale would recognize him as the sensitive, working-class star of Marty, his Oscar-winning role. (Interesting, in that the McHale pilot "Seven Against the Sea," was a drama, or at least more dramatic than McHale.) He'll get some meaty roles in the future: The Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra, The Wild Bunch, The Poseidon Adventure; although many of them were not of the above-the-title kind, they were memorable.

It's easy to see why he might feel the way he does, in a cast comprised of standout comedians like Joe Flynn, Tim Conway, Gavin MacLeod, and Carl Ballantine. While the others clown around on set, Borgnine is often seen off to the sides, studying his lines (he rarely fluffs one). Many wondered how long Borgnine would be able to keep his Italian temper under control amid being constantly upstaged by his comedic co-stars. By the last episode, after a long and hot filming schedule, it's not just Borgnine's temper that's short, and he and Flynn almost come to blows after having to do repeated takes of a staged fight scene.

McHale's Navy runs for four successful seasons, a favorite of many of the World War II veterans comprising the television viewing audience. McHale was never my cup of tea; I remember Bob Crane talking about how he could never play Hogan the way Borgnine played McHale - not if he wanted to remain credible as a leader - and that strikes me as about right, one reason why I always preferred Hogan's Heroes. But you can't argue with success. No matter what happens to Ernest Borgnine from now on, to a particular generation he'll always be affectionately remembered as the crafty McHale. Another generation, of course, will remember him for a completely different part, but that's another story.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Ed's guests include Helen Hayes, in scenes from the Broadway play "The White House": singer Abbe Lane; Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy; comics Davis and Reese; the Dave Clark Five, British instrumental and vocal quintet; comics Morty Gundy and Bill Cosby; comedienne Tessie O'Shea; and the dance team of Elsa and Waldo.

Palace: Phil Harris is the host, and he introduces Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong; soprano Mary Costa; comedians Louis Nye and Pete Barbuti; dancer-choreographer Peter Gennaro; the Jubilee Four, instrumental group; the Peiro Brothers, juggling act; and the Robert Baudy leopard and panther act.

Ed's lineup may be a bit deeper this week, and in most other weeks it probably would wind up on top, but not this week. Not with Phil Harris, whom I've really learned to appreciate from the OTR program he did with his wife, Alice Faye; not with Louis Armstrong, one of the great musicians of the era; not with the very funny Louis Nye, or the talented Peter Gennaro, or Pete Barbuti, who wore a green blazer on The Tonight Show once and had Johnny congratulate him for winning the Masters. It's an easy call this week: Palace for the win.

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Saturday on NBC Sports Special, it's highlights of the NASCAR's World 600 (or, as TV Guide calls it, the "Charlotte Motor Speedway Marathon"), filmed the previous Sunday. One of the drivers touted in the listing is the great Fireball Roberts, NASCAR's first real superstar*, who supposedly plans to make this his last race before retiring to work as a commercial spokesman for Falstaff. On lap seven, Roberts is caught up in a crash with two other drivers; his car bursts into flames and Roberts would have been burned alive were it not for fellow driver Ned Jarrett, who risks his own life to pull Roberts from the fiery wreck. The badly burned Roberts spends 39 days in the hospital in critical condition before dying from pneumonia.

*In addition to winning 33 races, he finished in the top-5 in 45% of the races he ran. Not bad.

Ironies abound. Saturday is Memorial Day, May 30, the traditional date for the Indianapolis 500*. Radio announcer Sid Collins tells us that Fireball Roberts will be listening to the race from his hospital bed, and whether he actually does or not, we know several of his NASCAR colleagues are there with him, listening on the radio. A little more than five hours before the World 600 highlights air on NBC, the 500 sees one of the worst accidents in the history of the race - indeed, one of the worst ever seen in American auto racing - as rookie Dave MacDonald loses control of his car coming out of the fourth turn at the end of the second lap. His car slams into the inner wall and explodes, then swerves back onto the straightaway, where he collides with veteran Eddie Sachs. There is a second explosion, other cars are involved, a massive black cloud envelopes the track, and when everything clears the crash claims the lives of both Sachs and MacDonald. I wrote about that at the other blog back in 2014, on the 50th anniversary. Let's hope we don't see anything like that tomorrow.

*Back when Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30, rather than on the last Monday of the month. Beginning in 1974, the World 600 - now known as the Coca-Cola 600 - has been run on the same day as the 500.

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On Sunday at 12:30 p.m. (CT), Connecticut Senator Thomas J. Dodd is the guest on ABC's Issues and Answers, discussing his support of the Cuban rebels fighting against Castro. I don't know if we've discussed Thomas Dodd on here before, but if not, we should spend a moment discussing his significance to television. As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee On Juvenile Delinquency, Dodd had become the bane of television networks in the early and mid '60s with his crusades against violence on television - in particular, ABC's The Untouchables, which he saw as exhibit #1. Longtime TV Guide writer Neil Hickey would later recount, “In 1961, Sen. Thomas Dodd heard testimony that TV's utilization of violence had remained (as one observer put it) "both rampant and opportunistic." (One independent producer told of being asked to "inject an 'adequate' diet of violence into scripts." A network official* told another program supplier: "I like the idea of sadism.")

*The "network official" in question was actually the show's producer Quinn Martin, whom I don't believe was employed by the network; the complete quote, written in response to a script that featured yet another hapless victim being run over by a car, read, "I like the idea of sadism [which might have been sardonic, i.e. "I like sadism as much as the next guy" - MH], but I hope we can come up with another approach to it."

Looking today at the level of violence in The Untouchables, in which, as the AV Club put it, "People don’t stagger around with half their faces blown off or stalk through bloody gun battles naked with belts tied around their neck, the way they do now on cable shows," one is tempted to see the controversy behind it as the "violence on television" equivalent of Reefer Madness. In context, it was very violent, and I suppose you can legitimately ask the question as to whether or not this was but one step on the slippery slope toward the graphic violence we see today. It's hard for me to answer that question, because I'm a fan of the show, and I didn't see it in context.

Dodd mounted his campaign with hearings in 1961 and 1964, and was probably at least a part of the inspiration for the satiric spoofs of violence that appeared on Rocky and Bullwinkle, including one in which the characters discussed whether or not mayhem committed against a moose and squirrel counted. My favorite: one in which Bullwinkle, having made the statement to an official-looking gent that he "liked violence," whereupon the incredulous official had subjected him to just about every violent act that could be committed on TV and ended by asking him how he could like violence, replied that it was "because they smell so pretty." Hopefully my telling of the joke translates well from the screen to the page; if it doesn't, let me know in the comments. Dodd was scandaled out of the Senate in 1970; his son, Chris, was elected ten years later.

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Speaking of politics, the political showdown of the year is Tuesday, as Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller square off in the California Republican Presidential Primary. Had Rocky won the primary, the Republican nomination could very well have gone in another direction, perhaps toward Richard Nixon as a compromise candidate. That's just speculation on my part, though. What the well-oiled Goldwater campaign demonstrated in California was the importance of working at the grassroots level, and Theodore White's The Making of the President 1964 describes how, in the land of transplants that California has always been, the little connections can make all the difference - Goldwater wins, 51.6% to 48.4%, and with it the GOP nomination is all but his.

One of the other winners in California is the song-and-dance man George Murphy, who scores an upset victory over Lee Kaiser to win the Republican nomination; he'll go on to defeat Pierre Salinger in November. I'm sure one of the interested observers of this election is Ronald Reagan, one of Murphy's successors as president of the Screen Actors Guild. Murphy's victory, along with Reagan's spectacular late-campaign speech in support of Goldwater, makes the actor's entry into politics far more plausible, as we'll see two years later.

For now, however, Reagan is still a working actor, and we'll get to see some of that on Thursday night's Kraft Suspense Theatre (9:00 p.m., NBC), in which he plays a judge kidnapped by an escaped convict (Scott Marlowe) whom the judge had sentenced to death. It's an interesting piece, with the con's primary goal being to show the judge just what it's like to be on death row.

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So far it seems as if we've spent more time on background than we have actually sitting in front of the television; let's see if we can rectify that.

On Saturday, Channel 9's late movie is My Gun is Quick, one of the all-time great titles, based on the Mike Hammer novel by Mickey Spillane and starring Robert Bray as the two-fisted detective with Hazel's Whitney Blake as a comely widow.  Sunday, a day completely and utterly devoid of sports programming except for an excursion into bowling and gymnastics, features syndicated fare such as Amos 'n' Andy and Highway Patrol (Channel 11); G-E College Bowl, pitting Lewis and Clark against Whittier College (NBC, 4:30 p.m.); Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour (CBS, 4:30 p.m.); and movies just about everywhere.

NBC's Monday Night at the Movies (6:30 p.m.) airs the network premiere of the classic musical Singin' in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and a show-stealing Donald O'Connor. That's followed at 8:30 p.m. by Hollywood and the Stars, this week featuring a profile of Bing Crosby, narrated by Joseph Cotten. And that's followed at 9:00 p.m. by Sing Along with Mitch, which salutes the music of London, circa World War II.

If coverage of the California Primary isn't your Tuesday cup of tea (and it's late at night anyway), you might prefer NBC's Bell Telephone Hour (9:00 p.m.), with Robert Goulet hosting an hour of pleasant music sung by his wife, Carol Lawrence, Florence Henderson, Rosalind Elias, and Janet Blair. I might prefer CBS's Garry Moore Show at 9:30 p.m. - it's the final new show of the series, and the cast takes a moment to tell viewers - and each other - goodbye.

Wednesday features one of the Moore show's alums, Carol Burnett, in a TV version of the off-Broadway musical that made her a star, Once Upon a Mattress (8:30 p.m., CBS). Future soap opera star Bill Hayes is part of the supporting cast. Earlier in the night, at 6:30 p.m., the Tiffany Network presents a program you'd hardly see today, as part of the Roots of Freedom series: "In Defense of Freedom" features Eric Sevareid discussing Roman history with classics professor Moses Hadas, while actors James Mason and Bill Travers read excerpts from the writings of Roman authors. It sounds like a very interesting program to me, but to most people nowadays it's just a lot of fuss about dead white guys - what's so special about that?

Here's a plot line you can see a mile - nay, a thousand miles - away, on Thursday's episode of The Flintstones (6:30 p.m., ABC): "Fred says a housewife's job is easy, and he's willing to do wilma's chores for a day to prove his point." We all know how that will turn out, don't we? Better, perhaps, to watch NBC's Dr. Kildare (7:30 p.m.), in which Jack Lord, who Thursday night as star of Hawaii Five-O, plays a former professional football player whose rheumatoid arthritis, which ended his football career, now threatens his career as a surgeon.

Friday. Julius Caesar is on Channel 2's Drama Festival at 6:30 p.m. At 7:30 p.m. it's "Eisenhower Returns to Normandy," a CBS Reports documentary on the 20th anniversary of D-Day, at a time when many (most?) of the participants were still around to discuss it. Ike does his discussing with Walter Cronkite, who tours the battle scenes with the General. And the future Morticia, Carolyn Jones plays four roles in the Burke's Law episode "Who Killed Sweet Betsy?", airing opposite Ike on ABC.

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I mentioned Garry Moore's final new show earlier, so I suppose I should also put in a word that Danny Thomas' long-running sitcom, which started out as Make Room for Daddy before becoming The Danny Thomas Show, is coming to an end as well. It's run for 11 seasons and 343 episodes, and brought its star and producer, Thomas, great fame and wealth. But who, today, remembers him? Oh, you might associate his name with St. Jude, or with his daughter Marlo (if you even remember her), but considering the fame that the man had during his lifetime - well, we've discussed this before, with Bob Hope, for example. Nobody remembers Garry Moore, either, even though at one time he had three programs on television. In fact, I'm not entirely sure if young people recognize any of the names in this week's issue, and that includes the former Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan. Wait, I take that back. They will remember Ernest Borgnine. After all, he voiced Mermaid Man on SpongeBob. They do remember that, don't they? Gads, I have a headache.

Oh, and before I forget - the answers to Wednesday's puzzle! No peeking if you haven't done it yet!


5 comments:

  1. As a child immersed in an active Rockefeller Republican (something that no longer exists) family in upstate NY in the 60's, we were always engaged in watching our favorite governor make attempts at the presidency. Unfortunately, what did him in in the 1964 Cal primary was the birth of his son with his second wife, Happy, who he had married the year before. Both of them were married before. In '64, divorce was still a real deal breaker in politics and it hurt him on conservative parts of So Cal.

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    1. You're right, John - that was huge back in those days, and the birth just reminded people of it. If I recall correctly, and you might remember this, Rocky's handlers really wanted him to wait to marry Happy until after the campaign. Times have changed, haven't they?

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    2. That's correct, Mitchell. My dad was an elected local official who was one of Rockefeller's local reps. The campaign people were worried about just that...but Nelson did things his way. I had a unique childhood...I remember coming home from 8th grade and finding a big Cadillac with NY license plate "1" in the driveway of our small home. The governor was visiting my dad. Ironically, a divorce did not hurt Reagan's chances when he ran for governor in 1966...perhaps the Hollywood factor insulated him.

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  2. If Borgnine did the show for the money, he was just about to lose a big chunk of it to Ethel Merman, to get out of their short lived marriage.

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  3. The "CBS Reports" special with Walter Cronkite and General Eisenhower is considered one of the best D-Day documentaries; it's been repeated every few years since (but usually in an abridged 60-minute version; I would think that in 2019, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, CBS will repeat the entire 90-minute special).

    I would think that it's also on DVD. If it isn't on DVD now, I suspect it will get a DVD (and Blu-Ray) release by the 2019 anniversary.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!